moving for relief


Post by Leah McKellop


Writer and biomechanist, Katy Bowman studies the way we move and has

built her life as a type of living experiment on the subject. Bowman and family live in

a rural area of the country where they are able to get out into nature daily. She is a

huge proponent of living and moving in the ways that our ancestors did. She and

her kids climb trees, squat to pick berries and hike miles a day. Her two young

children did not use any form of baby carries in their early days and are now easily

able to support their own weight. Before hiking for miles was a possibility, her kids

learned to hold on to her, sling free, for entire hikes. By age one she claims they

could easily hang on bars and support their own body weight. Essentially, Bowman

argues that our bodies evolved to support our own weight and constantly be in

motion. If we stay still and use props to support us, like strollers or office chairs, our

bodies aren’t are using their most basic functions and will start to break down or

feel pain.

Of course Bowman’s own life is at one end of the extreme. But, what she

argues may certainly apply to our own lives. The crux of her philosophy is that

posture, alignment and ergonomics are all a modern invention. If we simply spent

as much time moving as our ancestors used to, we wouldn’t feel the aches and pain

that are the result of staying still for extended periods of time. Of course staying still

in an aligned position will give us some relief, but to really be pain free we have to

keep moving.

Each time a Rolfer works on spasmed or tight areas of the body, they are

essentially introducing localized movement to that area. Often the receiver will be

asked to contract and relax specific muscles, as the practitioner slowly works

through adhesions in the connective tissue. These adhesions, or thickening of the

fascia are the result of stillness. As long as your muscles are not moving, their

fascial wrapping will continue thicken. Passive stretching may free some of those

adhesions, but often a more immediately effective way to find mobility is to get the

muscles to activate through movement. Even before sitting down to do a stretching

routine, you often want to “warm up” your muscles. Warming up basically consists

of getting your muscles to fire and moving them through greater range of motion.

That type of movement easily breaks through small fascial adhesions that build up

in times of stillness.

Sometimes this concept is often lost to us when we have a bad “knot” or

spasm. There are a range of reasons why we may be feeling a spasm. That muscle

may be strained from over use, like picking up a heavy object, or the spasm may be

the result of inactivity and even atrophy in very underused areas. For a pulled or

overworked muscle there may be an initial healing period of stillness, marked by

inflammation and healing tissue. But after that initial period, if you protect that

muscle, keeping it still or held, it will become more and more adhered to its

connective tissue surroundings. For both overworked and underworked muscles,

the healing process takes movement.

How can we introduce movement? If the area is tender, the first movements

may be slow and meditated. If you can reach and touch the muscle, do so. Feel that

specific muscle contract and relax under your fingers. Does it drag all the

surrounding muscles with it, or does it have freedom to move independently? If

everything moves, focus your attention. Make your flexing smaller, more specific.

Gradually as that muscle starts to move with smooth control it will break away from

some of the fascia that has it tacked down. As the muscle is more able to shorten

and lengthen, the muscle length may reset, releasing the spasm. If you can simply

get up and take a walk, that muscle will continue to flex and relax, getting stronger

and stronger. As your muscles become freer, your posture will become more

balanced. It won't be because you held yourself still in perfect alignment, but rather

by moving, your muscles and bones have become mobile, your fascia unable to

adhere to itself and your body has been constantly resetting itself to get you to a

point of balance. If life as a sedentary creature has you aching, see if you can just

walk a little more each day and see if that helps.